Remember when receiving an email from a business that used your name in the salutation seemed like a revolutionary development? Since marketing took those first steps toward incorporating user information in communications, personalization has become an essential means for establishing a deeper connection with customers.

Now, through digital experience platforms like Sitecore, companies monitor and retain the details about their website visitors. Organizations can access and act upon so much more data than your first name, including browsing habits, geographic location, and interests.

But website personalization is like playing with fire. First, you start small and within a controlled environment. Then, with care and further testing, you expand those efforts while ensuring you maintain control.

With digital privacy an ongoing concern, your organization must be cautious about the way it gathers data and incorporates personalization into its marketing. There are a lot of dark patterns in data gathering that are, unfortunately, effective for many organizations. Tricking people into sharing their information for your company’s use may work, but it isn’t sustainable. Users quickly reject these adversarial approaches once they’ve been noticed.

By being honest and helpful with the way your organization uses customer data, your website delivers a better user experience. And that strengthens your brand in the long run.

Personalization Delivers a Stronger, More Intuitive User Experience

Website personalization is built upon designing a more streamlined, inviting atmosphere for your website. Your overarching strategy should be to make the user as comfortable as possible.

A key method of comfortable personalization stems from observing visitor interests and then streamlining the journey toward what they need. For an e-commerce site, this can be as simple as surfacing items a user has previously viewed as well as any related products. Or, in the case of a stock photography website, personalization may recognize browsing patterns to eliminate barriers between the customer and the products they want. For example, if a user never views illustrations in image searches, the website can “learn” from that data and not to display them.

Personalization also improves the user experience for digital resources. Google Forms pre-populates a form with the appropriate input types depending on the survey questions chosen. The interface then narrows the options to display only the applicable choice to generate a questionnaire quickly and easily.

By delivering this kind of custom response to user input, you shorten the amount of time your users spend looking for what they want. Positive, efficient website experiences like these build customer loyalty.

The Right Personalization Furthers Customer Connections with Your Brand

With the right use of personalization, organizations of all sizes can draw a closer connection with customers. In the banking industry, one company has used personalization to improve customer relationships by responding to their geographic location. Once the company’s website recognizes a user’s zip code, photography from that region is incorporated into the user’s site design. While such a personal touch could have been confined to referencing a local landmark, the bank goes beyond the superficial to establish a connection.

As the user navigates the website, it cycles through a selection of slice-of-life photographs of local street scenes or rural landscapes across its pages. As a result, a large, multinational bank establishes a stronger yet still subtle regional connection with its customers using their location information.

Personalization does not always have to be utilized to engineer an obvious change to a site’s design or UX to impact your customer relationship. Sometimes, moving past the expected corporate approach and toward a more comfortable atmosphere delivers an experience that’s targeted yet feels genuine.

When Used Improperly, Personalization Oversteps a Line with Customers

Personalization should aim to deliver a smoother customer experience. But when the effort of information gathering and customization goes too far, your attempts at connection can backfire.

Built upon providing its users with an experience driven by their interests, Facebook relies on its algorithm to deliver what could be called “extreme personalization.” Every post in your feed is tailored in response to your interests. However, Facebook’s efforts are so targeted that personalization narrows its users’ experience. The algorithm delivers advertising for what users may likely want but fails to look beyond their habits. With such a singular focus, the algorithm doesn’t broaden its users’ experience on the site.

Ineffective personalization is also reflected in e-commerce through shopping cart reminders. Everyone has had the experience of going to a website, adding items to their virtual cart, and moving onto something else. Several hours later, these stores will email you a reminder of your browsing habits as a result of collecting your contact information at the purchase stage (or another, less transparent means).

While this has become the norm as companies strive not to “leave any money on the table,” unprompted reminders are often seen as pushy by shoppers. Instead, brands should further respond to their customers’ habits by sending alerts when the items they browsed are on sale or offer a shipping discount to complete the transaction.

A good guideline for your personalization efforts is to engage the interests of your visitors by offering an additional benefit toward their purchase. By sending a nagging shopping cart reminder with no further incentive, companies are acting in their own interests. And their customers sense it.

Website Personalization Builds Your Brand, But It Takes Time

Building a rapport with your customers through comfortable personalization brings obvious value to your website over the long term. When visitors are comfortable, they’re engaged with your content and compelled to return, which is crucial to you business. But personalization also isn’t a quick and dirty process. It is part of building a brand, and that takes time.

Incorporating website personalization should start small and then expand at a pace that prioritizes the user’s needs. Striking a balance between helpful use of customer data with an invasive approach is a tightrope walk for brands. But if your effort begins with a desire to be forthright and trustworthy, then users will respond in kind.